I’m back from my podcast vacation. It has been three months since I recorded anything. We were both very, very busy and the things that keep the homestead financially solvent become front and center. It’s good to be back in front of the microphone.
Let me take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners. The subscriber numbers continued to go up even though I was absent. Again, thank you so much. And a big welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I truly appreciate each and every one of you. I’m not sure how much I’m going to include in today’s episode. As I said, it has been three months and a whole lotta stuff has happened in that time.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Those of you that are members of our Locals.com community will have heard about some of the things I’m going to talk. That’s thanks to Scott. He posts weekly about the cows and the creamery. If you’d like to hear his perspective, go to peacefulheartfarm.locals. com and join our community. It’s free to sign up. We also have specific data that is for subscribers only. Also, anyone can read, watch and listen, but only subscribers can comment and make their own posts to the community. There is a minimal fee $5 per month to subscribe, though you can support us at whatever level you choose. And again, read, watch, listen for free.
A shout out and huge “Thank You” to our Locals supporters. You help us keep going. Again, for those of you interested in more content, the address is peaceful heart farm. Locals. com.
Let’s start with the cows. The centerpiece of our operation as a small dairy and creamery.
Breeding season with artificial insemination began the last week of May. In August, when I last published a podcast, we had one confirmed pregnancy with a second AI procedure in progress, waiting on preg confirmation the first week of September. Today, we STILL have only one confirmed pregnancy and the last AI appointment for this cycle was completed about three weeks ago. We have spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars on this AI process. I believe there have been a total of three tries. We have to work with the vet’s schedule so the timeframes have stretched long.
The second attempt produced three or four additional pregnancies and we set up the third AI appointment to try and get the four remaining cows impregnated. The second attempt girls were preg checked with ultrasound and three or four confirmed. However, before the next AI session, they all aborted. The aborts were likely related to a spirochete infection that is spread via deer urine. We treated all the cows. The next AI appointment was scheduled so we could start all over again and get them cycling all at the same time. Time just kept moving forward and here we are in November and still only one confirmed pregnancy. The third attempt is completed.
Last AI Vet Visit
The vet will come again a few days after Thanksgiving to see where we stand. One of the reasons this has stretched so long is the vet waits 65 days or so to be able to confirm pregnancy with ultrasound. We already know that only two have not come into heat again. Five have been bred by Ferdinand. We can tell because of what are called “heat stickers” If they get mounted, the stickers are rubbed clean and the underlying fluorescent orange becomes visible. That means possibly two out of seven on this last try.
So why do I keep saying it is the last try? Well, that’s because we finally bit the bullet and bought the bull I just mentioned. We purchased Ferdinand about a month ago. He’s a gorgeous guernsey bull. Of course, this is not ideal because our plan is to have 100% registered Normande dairy herd. But we had to do something just to get calves so the cows would be in milk.
We can’t support the herd shares and make cheese without lactating cows and we don’t have lactating cows if they don’t give birth to calves every so often. Even if we are able to continue milking them, their milk production continuously declines the farther they are from their last delivery. We don’t know how long they will produce milk before they naturally dry up. Some say around 12 months. Others say they have had cows lactate for two years. We may just find the answer to that question for our girls.
Ferdinand is Our Hope of Success
The bottom line is that Ferdinand will get our girls pregnant and we will have milk in the fall of 2023. Most of the calves out of Ferdinand will be sold as they won’t add to our goal of a 100% Normande herd. I believe I talked about our particular plan was to always have calves in the spring and not milk in the winter. That plan has been completely turned on its head. We may end up milking year-round for a little while. I won’t explain the details here, but it requires going without calves again for more than a year. It may work out just fine, but it will take time. Again, keeping up with the herd shares and having milk to make cheese is the priority, whatever it takes. Otherwise, we simply cannot remain financially viable.
Nickle is on Deck
On the upside, we have a registered purebred Normande bull named Nickle that was born in April this year. We kept him intact because a neighbor wanted to buy him after he was weaned. In the end, we backed out of that sale because we do actually live and learn. We will keep Nickle around for at least two or three years, perhaps more, before replacing him with another. Ferdinand will likely have another chance next year as we expect Nickle to be still too small to get the job done.
It was a good idea on paper to not keep a bull around and feed him hay through the winter for just two months of work in the early summer. AI seemed to be the best way to go – and to be sure, we have not given up on that completely. However, our AI experience has now shown us the necessity of keeping a bull.
Scott Needs to Learn the AI Procedure
The first two years we used AI, I believe we had about a 50% success rate on the first try. And that’s pretty average according to the stats. But this last go round has been a nightmare – a very costly nightmare. So where do we go from here?
The plan is for Scott to learn how to do AI himself. There are workshops available and he will be attending one sometime in the future. I’m sure he will be very good at this task. He has a strong medical background. Right now, he is still very busy with building the creamery (more on that later), and with the bull, we are good-to-go for breeding at this point.
As we get to the place in our journey where Scott can act quickly when a cow comes into heat and we are not reliant on the vet to perform the procedure, I believe AI will once again become a good fit for us. We will still keep a bull on hand. A bull is going to be needed if we expect to keep our calving season in a specific window of time. Ok, enough about the cows.
Have I got a story for you regarding the dogs? It is pretty wild. I’ll start from where I left off, but stay until the end. About a week ago, something crazy happened.
We started with three livestock guardian dogs. Mack was born and raised with sheep and cows. His owners sold all of their livestock and Mack needed a new home. Charlotte and Finn were guarding chickens and turkeys and their owners also decided to get out of the business. Let’s talk about Mack first.
I have mentioned several times that Mack is a great dog, but food or resource aggressive. In the last episode I talked about trying to get him to bond with the sheep and getting the sheep to be okay with him in their space. And I talked about how he barked and growled at them to keep them away from his food. Well, that situation escalated a bit because Charlotte also became food aggressive and the two of them went at each other’s throats twice before I separated them.
Finn disappeared and Charlotte ended up hanging with Mack and the sheep. The first time there was an incident, I saw Mack go to Charlotte’s bowl. He was finished eating and she was goofing off with a treat a few feet away from her bowl. As she saw him invade her bowl, she went after him. It was pretty intense for about 5 or 10 seconds. She won that battle and I thought it was over. Fast forward a few weeks. They have now been moved a couple times. They go with the sheep when the sheep need to move. They are all back in paddock #8 when it happened again. This time Charlotte tried to eat out of Mack’s bowl. They went at it again for 5 or 10 seconds. It’s a really scary thing to see. They definitely meant business. The next day, Mack would not approach his bowl when I brought it to him. I knew that was very wrong.
Progress at Last
After a quick consultation and a post to the Livestock Guardian Dog Training Facebook page, I was informed they were both now food aggressive and needed to be fed separately or it would end badly, with one of them cowed and skinny or dead. I immediately began taking Mack completely out of the pasture and over to the garden area before giving him his bowl. The garden is fenced so he could not wander very far and he is easily moved from one place to another. I gave Charlotte her bowl in the pasture well away from the livestock.
Mack always eats right away. Charlotte did not. But she is a very smart girl. It only took one time of me picking up that bowl and walking away with it and not returning until the next day for her to learn that when I bring it, she needs to eat it. We have not had a problem since.
This change of feeding practice has changed everything. This change provided such an immediately productive outcome that I was, and still am, elated. I talk a lot about our challenges with one thing and another here on the homestead. And when one challenge is not only overcome but produces this kind of productive outcome, I’m on cloud nine. Within days of beginning the new feeding regimen, these two dogs became the best of friends. Charlotte was immediately willing to work with and hang out with Mack. Up until then, she had been aloof with Mack. And better than that, she started becoming more friendly toward me.
Charlotte is My Friend
It has been a while since I talked about this, but all of our dogs have had some kind of issue that I deal with on a daily basis. Charlotte’s issue was that she would not let anyone near her. We had to trap her in smaller and smaller areas just to get close enough for the vet to examine her. She is a really beautiful Great Pyrenees and I just wanted to love on her. It was frustrating that she would never let me close. A few weeks after the change between her and Mack, she started to change her attitude toward me as well.
Oddly, she still runs away from me and won’t let me touch her when I bring her food. But when I come at any other time and even after she finishes her food, she lets me pet her now. She will still shy away if I move too quickly, but I’m so pleased to be able to actually pet her. And this morning, while I was out checking on the baby goats (more on that later), she actually put her paw on me to get my attention while I was looking away at the sheep. She touched me. Twice she did this. I feel so blessed to have finally made so much progress with her. It has been just barely over a year since we got her and finally, she will let me love her.
Finn is Back
Now for the bombshell. Finn is back. Some of you are new and have no idea what I am talking about. Here’s the scoop. Last year when we got Charlotte, another dog also came with the package. Some of you will remember him but I’ll recap here for all the newbies.
Finn is an Anatolian/Great Pyrenees cross. He is like a big cuddly bear. As I said, there are challenges will all of our dogs. They were all rehomed to us as adults and, as is common, they have not been the perfect livestock guardian dogs that we imagined. Many of the posts on the Livestock Guardian Dog Facebook page are about issues with rehomed or rescued dogs and the consensus is that these dogs are always a roll of the dice as to whether they will actually work with your livestock and your operation. It is just about the only option, though, if you want an adult dog. With a puppy, it is two years before it can be trusted alone with the livestock. Anyway, Finn’s vice is that he roams. It was impossible to keep him inside our perimeter fence. And that fence was built to contain goats. But goats got nothing on a dog that loves to roam.
In the first six months of his time with us, he escaped at least three or four times. Luckily, I had immediately gotten tags for all of the dogs that have our farm name and phone number printed on them. He may have escaped even more than four times, now that I think about it. Three times we got a call from a neighbor and we had to go pick him up. One time he was about five miles away. I’m pretty sure there were other times when he didn’t go far and we were able to get him back home quickly. It’s hard to remember, so much has happened since then. It seemed like he escaped every day.
About six months ago, he escaped and never returned and there were no calls from a neighbor to tell us where to pick him up. Up to that point, he had never been gone for more than a day or two before someone called us. Six months ago, he disappeared. We grieved the loss. Charlotte grieved the loss also. Then, about a week ago, Scott found him walking along the fence line near the road. It was easy to get him to come inside the fence and he is happily residing with Charlotte once again. Is that not the most amazing thing? Six months and he just showed up. His tag with our farm name and number was missing. Did someone keep him for themselves? I never thought that was possible. Mainly because he was impossible to contain and he would have escaped from that person also. We will probably never know.
Finn’s Health Upon His Return
He was covered with more cockleburs than I have ever seen and his left eye is injured. He will not hold it open. I tried a couple of times to cut out the cockleburs but he was having none of it. We were exploring ways to be able to get this done without him biting us. The point became moot. He cleared those cockleburs himself within two or three days. I have no idea how he got the giant mat of them from under his neck. I can see how he probably pulled them off of his legs and I had successfully clipped them free from his back. There are still a few and it is good to know he is so good at keeping his coat clean. Anyway, he is a little thin and has that issue with his eye and I’m monitoring that, but otherwise he looks good.
What Happened with Mack?
There is one other bit to throw in here. Only a few days before his return, we had decided that Mack was simply not going to work with the sheep. He kept charging at them to exert his dominance. He didn’t really chase them, but he would bark and run toward them until they moved, then he would stop and trot away. Then he killed a chicken and that was sort of the last straw, though it was not all his fault.
The chickens go anywhere they want and I was worried in the beginning about him chasing them. Charlotte was guarding chickens at the farm where we picked her up so I was not worried about her. Anyway, it only took about two weeks before my fear was realized. I went down to feed him and he did not come when I called. I found him guarding his prize. She was not quite dead, but mortally wounded. We processed her and put him back in with the cows and left Charlotte with the sheep.
Charlotte and the Sheep
Charlotte was doing fairly well with the sheep, though she is actually afraid of the them. She runs if they come close. But she was staying in their general vicinity as they mosey around the pasture grazing. So, when Finn returned, we put him back in with her and the sheep. What else could we do? The paddock she was currently occupying seemed to satisfy her – she used to escape just about every day also, but she seemed to be bonding with the sheep to the point of actively protecting them even if she did still run from them. And she stayed in the pasture with them.
When Finn arrived back on the scene, she went immediately up on the hill where the sheep were grazing. She greeted Finn but seemed to have no interest in him and returned to her job. That was the first day. It didn’t last. Now a week later, she has warmed up to Finn again and is not really staying with the sheep anymore. That was our original problem that led to the final escape of Finn. We had given up on Charlotte and Finn being useful for guarding the sheep. They were more attached to each other than the livestock. They bark much more when they are together than Charlotte alone. And they both escaped regularly. We were looking to rehome them and just work with Mack.
That was the fateful time when Finn escaped and did not return. As I said, both Charlotte and Finn escaped regularly, but Charlotte was always right back in the morning or sometimes even the same evening. Every time we moved them to a new place where they had never been, we spent days finding and fortifying their escape routes. On that fateful day, we put them in the orchard while we moved Mack in with the sheep. This was their first time there and it was not fortified. Less than half an hour in the orchard and they were gone. Charlotte returned before dark and Finn was gone for six months.
It is good to have him back, but we are back to square one. In the end, Mack didn’t work out with the sheep any more than Finn and Charlotte.
We Still Have Issues
I know I’ve rambled on and on about our defective livestock guardian dogs. And we may still have to make some hard decisions. You probably realize that at this point, I’m really attached to all of them. Now, only a week after his return, Finn has converted Charlotte back to her original self. She escapes and goes wherever she wants, never staying where we put her, not really staying with the sheep. She hangs with Finn.
So far, Finn escaped a couple of times but seems to be secure at the moment after Scott spent time patching up his escape locations. Not so with Charlotte. She could always get out no matter what we did. But again, she always came right back so she was not so much of a worry. Without Finn, she had stopped that behavior. I have no doubt that Finn will eventually escape again and he may disappear again.
We are back to square one with all three dogs. My rational self tells me that we need to get some actual livestock guardian dogs that will work with our animals. And then my emotional self can’t seem to get moving on that, can’t seem to imagine being without them. Sigh.
Enough of that. Let’s talk about the goats.
I’m not going to say a lot about the goats as the podcast will get too long and I want to talk a bit about the chickens and the creamery.
We have had our new registered 100% New Zealand Kiko goats for a little over a month. They are so cute. Rhuarc is the buck. The does are Amys and Lian. All of those names will become familiar to you if you watch Amazon’s Wheel of Time series. At least I hope they will. I’m not happy about what they are doing with my all-time favorite book series as they adapt it to the screen. Not true to the books at all and those names may never appear in the screen adaptation. But there is always the books.
These are beautiful animals and they came from a great Kiko goat operation right here in Patrick County Virginia. The farm owner is a wonderful woman with a wealth of knowledge about this breed of goat. She has a couple hundred.
The only challenge I have had so far is getting them tamed down a little bit. We definitely did not want a repeat of the last goats that we had that ran from us wildly for the first couple of years. This time we put them in a 16’ x 16’ pen where we could begin to make friends with them before sending them out to the larger acreage.
The buck is now separated from the does. They are not old enough to be bred though at this point it is likely possible. So, the plan is to keep them separated for a few months until the does get old enough to be bred. Rhuarc now comes up to me and eats out of my hand. I can’t actually catch him up, but he does not run wildly in every direction when he sees me as they all did in the beginning.
This plan has worked out really well. Just this morning I let Lian and Amys out of their pen into the paddock with the sheep. I introduced the dogs to them. Both seemed quite disinterested so that was good. It was important that they not hurt my new babies. So far, so good. That’s about all I have to say about the goats. I’ll check on them in just a few minutes. I pray all is well on their first day out.
Moving on to the chickens. To recap, we have two breeds. Black Copper Marans and American White Bresse. The Marans lay chocolate brown eggs and the Bresse lay tan eggs. I’m not happy with the current egg production. I was looking for more eggs, but the jury is still out on whether we move forward with these breeds or switch to another.
I hatched 14 Bresse and 9 Marans. When they reached maturity, we processed the excess roosters. There were 8 Bresse roosters and we processed 6 of those. We were blessed with six Maran hens, exactly what I wanted, and we kept two of the three roosters.
The Chicken Plan
Right now, the rooster-to-hen ratio is way off. We need lots more hens. That will come in the spring when we hatch out lots of baby chicks. We wanted to have backup roosters but now I think that if we lose a rooster, we could just buy another group of chicks and raise a new rooster. That is the likely path we will take. In the next processing cycle, we will downsize to just one rooster of each breed.
These are great chickens. Well, I can say that chickens in general are very interesting creatures. And they are easy to care for and maintain. The American White Bresse are a special breed that has been bred to eat milk-soaked grain in the last two weeks before processing. Their meat becomes almost like marbled beef – or so they say. We haven’t tried it yet. We processed that first batch without the milk-soaked feed.
That’s it for the chickens. I’m not going to talk about the garden and orchard. They are going to sleep for the winter. I do have some thoughts there, but not for this podcast.
Let me finish up by talking about the progress on the creamery. We are nearing the end. The light at the end of the tunnel is now visible. Floors, electrical, plumbing and hooking up the gas will finish it out. I expect we will be a USDA inspected cheesemaking plant in the spring. That’s about six years from start to finish on this project. Without Scott’s bout with cancer last year, I would have been able to say five years. I am so blessed that he is fine now. So, six instead of five is just fine with me. It was a bit of a scare and a very tough season of life for him, but he is strong and healthy and continuing on with the crowning creation of his life. I hope you will visit once we open for business and see all that he has done.
Currently, Scott is in a race with the weather. He is working on the tile floors. Both the glue that holds the tile to the concrete floor and the grout that goes between the tiles are temperature sensitive. The temps need to be above 50 in order for the chemical processes to work effectively. As of today, he has all the tiles in place and is working on completing the grout. That is going to take several days. I’m not sure how many. He has probably posted about it on the Locals page. It’s hard for me to keep up with the exact days, especially when it can change on a daily basis if something goes awry or another task for the animals takes president. Caring for the animals always comes first.
Electrical and Plumbing
Once he has completed those floors, I believe he will go back to the electrical. If I remember correctly, he said he is about 50% done with the electrical. The next big thing is the plumbing.
He wanted to contract that out. It has probably been nine months since he started trying to find someone to do the work. That was like pulling teeth. No one was even willing to take on the job. No one had the time. Then when he did find someone, the bid was double what he expected to pay. We found that out just yesterday. At this point, he is back to having to do it himself. That means lots more time with YouTube videos and phone consultations with his brother in Florida. This makes me sad, but I also know he will get through it. My Scott is a tough guy and very goal oriented. He will get it done, whatever it takes.
Large Cheese Cave on Hold
He does have one room that is sitting untouched. The large cheese cave will not be completed until after the initial USDA inspected status is completed. Once winter sets in, he won’t be able to do the tile in that room until the spring. Until then, we have the small cheese cave functional and available.
I’m going to end it here. There is a lot more I could say but this has already gone long. You can find lots more information on the creamery posted on our Locals platform. That’s peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. Scott is always uploading videos of the animals and his work on the creamery.
That’s it for today’s podcast. It feels good to be back. Things are slowing down for me for the winter, though there is still a lot to do. I hope to get back on schedule with regular podcasts. Even in the winter there are exciting things going on here at the homestead. Scott will continue his hectic schedule even through the winter. I am feeling the excitement of this project coming to fruition.
Even with all the challenges of getting the cows bred and dealing with our less-than-perfect livestock guardian dogs, we keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I went on and on about the dogs I know and there is still so much that I did not say. I hope you enjoyed life on our homestead through my eyes and that you will continue to follow our journey as we build on our homestead dreams.
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And come on over to our Locals community. Subscribe at peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. We’d love to have your support and input in the community. And we’d love to help you out by answering your questions. I’ll be posting another episode in the productivity series that I started on the Locals platform. The first was on concentration and the next will be on developing and maintaining memory. See you there!
Thank you so much for stopping by our homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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